Usually we would not be excited about a 28 hour bus ride, but our trip from Santiago to Arica was going to be different. We had purchased the top-of-the-line “premium” bus seats which meant that we would have seats that folded out flat into a bed. Not only that, but we were traveling on Tur Bus. Tur Bus is always on time. In fact you can pretty much set your watch by their departures. None of this crap like in Argentina where the bus drivers would say we were going to stop for 10 minutes and we would be there for an hour. On Tur Bus if the bus driver says 10 minutes, you had better have your behind on the bus in 9 minutes. The staff on the bus bring you tasty treats morning, noon, and night as well as blankets and pillows. They also have a list of which passengers are getting off at which stops and they will tell you a few minutes in advance to get ready to depart. The bottom line is that out of all of the bus companies we used to travel through South America (and there were quite a few) Tur Bus is the only one I would unequivocally recommend.
This trip was no exception. We left Santiago right on time. We got our snacks from a very attentive attendant. We were not forced to watch the movies that they played all day because this company is hip to this newfangled technology called “headphones” whereby any passengers not wishing to watch Get Smart for the fourth time, the hilarity that ensues when some Wayans brothers disguise themselves as White Chicks, or Eddie Murphy imitating Bugs Bunny playing baseball by playing every character in Norbit, can simply ignore the movies instead of listening to them blaring from the overhead speakers. Or they can read the subtitles in Spanish and end up watching every stupid movie anyway because they are easily distracted.
But the best part was that night when we were getting ready for bed. We hadn’t realized that behind the seats were fold-out cushions that served as mini mattresses. The attendant came in and folded out the cushions for us and, for all intents and purposes, tucked us into bed. We arrived in Arica right on time, relaxed and refreshed and ready to take on the beach.
When we pulled into Arica, the first thing I noticed was the strange, pyramid-type structure of the bus station and the two-story Coca Cola soccer ball planted on an island in the middle of the street. “Is the whole city sponsored by Coke?” I asked.
“Maybe they just got a good deal on a gigantic soccer ball,” Adam speculated.
But the rest of the city is fairly normal. Like the rest of Chile, the grocery stores were fantastic (I was able to whip up some rockin’ chicken wraps and heavenly chocolate covered coffee and cream cheese truffles), the people were friendly, and evidence of the population’s good taste was everywhere as seen in this graffiti that I found on the sidewalk.
We checked into our apartment hotel and were slightly alarmed when we were shown a three bedroom, two bathroom apartment. Were we sharing this place with other people? We jokingly asked the guy at the desk if the apartment was just for us and he assured us that it was. Now that we had this important piece of information, we could relax and enjoy it. Although the furniture was straight out of the Sears catalog from 1983, we had a balcony with a view of the beach, a living room, and a full kitchen. The only thing that was missing was an internet connection. The staff remedied that by bringing a cable up to our apartment on the fourth floor and running in down the side of the building into the reception area where it stayed for the entire week that we were there.
Although Arica is a beach town, it is also in the middle of the desert and one of the driest inhabited places on earth (average annual precipitation is an insane 0.03 inches). Standing on the shore of the beach and looking to the east, you can see nothing but high, sand-covered mountains. It can make you feel a bit claustrophobic.
There were exactly three things of note that we did in Arica. Number one: We climbed up “El Morro” which overlooks the city and has several monuments dedicated to the War of the Pacific. There is also a fine view of the port and an immense statue of Jesus; no South American city is complete without one of those.
Number two: We walked out to the point where the lighthouse stands and watched some impressive waves crash over the rocks. It sounds dull, but it was actually quite mesmerizing.
Number three: We went to the beach. This was our primary activity every day. We sunbathed (responsibly), read, walked along the eight kilometers of beach, watched people surfing and body boarding, and admired the huge pelicans congregating on the water and swooping down to catch their food.
Yes, there are other things to do in and around Arica, but why do them? The beach calls…